Energy and Global Warming News for January 27: Stimulus provided big boost for geothermal industry, capacity expected to triple to nearly 10 GW in 5 years

Stimulus provided big boost for geothermal industry

The geothermal energy industry expanded by nearly 50 percent last year in confirmed new U.S. power projects, primarily because of cash from the federal stimulus law, the industry’s trade group said yesterday.

More than 6,440 megawatts of new U.S. projects are planned or under development, up 46 percent from 2008 numbers, the Geothermal Energy Association reported [click here for study]. The industry has a total installed capacity of more than 3,150 megawatts, up from about 2,900 megawatts in 2008.

“The geothermal energy industry is experiencing unprecedented growth with future years promising double-digit, year-over-year expansion,” said Karl Gawell, GEA’s executive director, in a statement. “While stimulus money has been driving much of the recent growth, we are also seeing that as geothermal technology pushes forward the economics of these projects really make sense.”


The stimulus law provided the industry with up to $400 million in new funding to advance research, development and deployment activities. It also expanded tax credits for new projects to include a 30 percent investment tax credit and a “cash grant” alternative.

“That’s really what’s driven all these new projects,” Gawell said in an interview. “Geothermal projects have longer lead times … and the fact that people now have a horizon to 2013, it made a lot of people say, ‘Let’s go.’”

But GEA does not expect new installations to drop off once stimulus funds dry up, Gawell said. The trade group expects Energy Department funding to continue.“We expect to see a strong DOE presence in this effort,” Gawell said, adding that the agency’s base budget for geothermal research has shifted upward in the past few years. “DOE has given a lot of support to its geothermal program, and we don’t expect that to go away.”

The industry is also soliciting outside financing. The report released yesterday comes on the heels of a finance forum held earlier this month to attract financiers for the burgeoning industry (Greenwire, Jan. 15).

Interest in new geothermal energy technologies like enhanced geothermal systems, or EGS, and geothermal hydrocarbon co-production is also expected to drive the industry, the report says. EGS involves fracturing dry rock deep underground and circulating water through the cracks to generate steam to drive an above-ground turbine. And geothermal hydrocarbon co-production generates power from usable geothermal fluids found in oil and gas production fields and in mining operations.

“If from the surface you understand where heat and water are better, that will not just help with current generation, but it will help with future generation and EGS in general,” Gawell said. “There’s a lot of overlapping technology needed for the long-run EGS and for the near term to develop strong growth in the industry.”

See also Bloomberg’s story, “U.S. Geothermal Energy Capacity Expected to Triple in 5 Years.”

For background on geothermal, see “Hot rocks are a rockin’ hot climate solution.”

Ecologists Outline Necessary Actions for Mitigating and Adapting to a Changing Climate

Global warming may impair the ability of ecosystems to perform vital services — such as providing food, clean water and carbon sequestration — says the nation’s largest organization of ecological scientists. In a statement released Jan. 26, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) outlines strategies that focus on restoring and maintaining natural ecosystem functions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

“Decision-makers cannot overlook the critical services ecosystems provide,” says ESA President Mary Power. “If we are going to reduce the possibility of irreversible damage to the environment under climate change, we need to take swift but measured action to protect and manage our ecosystems.”

Kerry: Jobs bill no threat to climate plans

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said Tuesday that Democratic plans to pack billions of dollars in energy programs into upcoming jobs legislation will not sap momentum from the broader climate change and energy bill he is trying to craft.

The jobs legislation remains in flux but could include upward of $12 billion in home and building efficiency retrofits and other energy-related spending.

“If it [the jobs bill] were to reach too far, it could have an impact, but I don’t think it is, and I think that has been taken into consideration,” Kerry told reporters in the Capitol.

“It is not a sufficiently broad enough piece that it has the ability to satisfy what needs to be done on the full energy front,” added Kerry, who praised the planned inclusion of the energy-efficiency measures in the jobs bill.

Kerry is working with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on a bill that would merge greenhouse gas emissions caps with support for various energy technologies, including nuclear power.

But it remains unclear whether the Senate will act on climate legislation in 2010. Mandatory curbs on greenhouse gas emissions face opposition from many Republicans and some centrist Democrats.

Fixing the Global Nitrogen Problem

Billions of people today owe their lives to a single discovery now a century old. In 1909 German chemist Fritz Haber of the University of Karlsruhe figured out a way to transform nitrogen gas””which is abundant in the atmosphere but nonreactive and thus unavailable to most living organisms””into ammonia, the active ingredient in synthetic fertilizer. The world’s ability to grow food exploded 20 years later, when fellow German scientist Carl Bosch developed a scheme for implementing Haber’s idea on an industrial scale.

Over the ensuing decades new factories transformed ton after ton of industrial ammonia into fertilizer, and today the Haber-Bosch invention commands wide respect as one of the most significant boons to public health in human history. As a pillar of the green revolution, synthetic fertilizer enabled farmers to transform infertile lands into fertile fields and to grow crop after crop in the same soil without waiting for nutrients to regenerate naturally. As a result, global population skyrocketed from 1.6 billion to six billion in the 20th century.

Business Groups Call for Action on Emissions

The debate over how the U.S. should control emissions of greenhouse gases is heating up again, with some business groups calling for congressional action despite reluctance among many lawmakers to move on a broad climate bill in an election year.

Some lawmakers are floating the possibility of a narrow bill targeted at the utility sector, which is worried about the potential costs if the Environmental Protection Agency follows through on its push to curb carbon-dioxide emissions using the Clean Air Act. But the outlook for even a targeted bill is uncertain.

More than 80 leading businesses, labor unions, faith, national security and environmental organizations launched a national print ad campaign last week calling for swift action by Congress to pass legislation that limits emissions.